White Knight Chronicles (International Edition)
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2010-02-14 PS3 RPG T (Teen) Level 5 / SCE

RPG fans have been waiting for Level 5's White Knight Chronicles for years, but does this final product stand up to what those fans have been expecting? That depends on just how high their hopes were set coming in.

To jump straight into the heart of the matter, the game contains a fairly basic mix of storyline cliches, only thankfully, this isn't a case where the main character has amnesia. Rather, the game takes on an "embrace your destiny" angle, following a young merchant's apprentice named Leonard who is swept into his country's war, challenged with saving the kidnapped princess (whom he, of course, happens to love) and defeating her captors, all the while learning to harness his new powers.

Only a chosen few have ever been able to wield the power of the great Knights, and you might expect, our hero is conveniently one such rarity. Those who have the power can transform into giant suits of armor, unleash stronger attacks and defend themselves against enemies that would otherwise be a threat. If you'd like an easy comparison, the White Knight armor is a Megazord to Leonardís Power Ranger.

The usual band of suspects join you on your quest - an elder warrior, a young girl totally out of her element and so on, but what makes the game interesting is in the ability to customize each character to your own particular needs based on the situation, and the fact that you can even create your own character and customize him/her down to the last detail.

The character customization process is incredibly in-depth, allowing you to change everything from eyebrow shape and lip color to hairstyle, weight and height, with a slew of options in between. Your character can also be given a voice by choosing from a variety of exemplars, although they remain quiet during the storyline proper (save for the usual grunts). As such, it's easy to find yourself instantly drawn to the real characters of the game, and place your focus on Leonard in terms of the best equipment and accessories, which is unfortunate; even more so if you choose to tackle the (incredibly repetitive) online co-op missions, as you'll find yourself in control of an ill-equipped character with a lot of catching up to do.

For the other characters (in addition to your own), the real layer of customization comes in the in-depth skill sets available to each. Upon defeating enemies and leveling up, you gain skill points which can be spent on abilities in a number of disciplines: healing magic, long-sword attacks, short-sword attacks, elemental magic (fire, ice, wind, etc.), and so on.

While you can give each character a variety of skills, it's best to simply assign each character a type and pour all of your skill points into that particular branch, leaving you with an incredibly powerful healer, mage, or melee fighter, among others, which can be switched out depending on the environment's particular demands at the time.

Regardless of which character you assign to each path (or if you give each character a variety of skills), they can also be given an overall battle strategy, prioritizing their actions to simply attack, defend, or even heal. The latter option sucks almost all difficulty out of the title, as your healer will automatically heal your characters, even if they've just been healed 10 or 15 seconds before. Of course there are additional healing items that one can take on their journey, but you'll most likely never touch them - the healer is that trigger happy, for a lack of a better term.

Combat itself feels like a mix of real-time and turn-based (although there is no actual structured taking turns mechanic) in that enemies freely roam the environments (no random encounters), but you must wait for your timing circle to fill before you can complete an action. So, while you do have a bit more freedom in your actions, in that you can back away from approaching enemies, outflank them, or even run away entirely, it still boils down to hitting the attack button, watching your opponent attack you back, and waiting to attack them again.

Action Chips add another layer to combat, with you earning said chips by defeating enemies using basic attacks. These chips can be stored and used later to unleash more powerful attacks (attacks like the basic Slash require no chips, meaning that you'll never be unable to attack an enemy, even if the stock attack is relatively weak).

Each region is typically massive in area, albeit lacking in enemy variety, giving you a great opportunity to level grind between cutscenes (and normally boss battles). Bosses themselves are incredibly unique, normally gigantic creatures that can be attacked in parts; for example, aiming at a tall monster's legs will bring it to the ground where you can attack its vulnerable stomach or even its head.

Technically, the graphics fare pretty well, and although there are the expected clipping issues with things like hair, weapons and a character's interaction with doors, the landscapes themselves are quite lovely. However, where the game truly shines technically is in its soundtrack, which combines genres from both ends of the spectrum, rock and orchestra, into some of the best music I've heard in an RPG in years.

All told, White Knight Chronicles is a decent J-RPG that runs into the normal faults found within the genre. The storyline is fairly predictable, the voice acting/dialog is a bit overdramatic and cheesy, and the online co-op leaves a lot to be desired. However, the battle system is unique, with the appreciated customization found therein allowing you to tailor the game to your own play-style, and the White Knight transformation system adds some variety to the action when things might otherwise turn stale. It's a solid title for established fans of the genre, who would expect the game's faults and look past them, but unfortunately is a little too average to change the opinions of the uninitiated.

Special thanks to Paula Adams and Sony for providing a copy of this title.